Feast of Alice Freeman Palmer (December 2)   1 comment

Alice Freeman Palmer

Above:  Alice Freeman Palmer

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-51910



U.S. Educator and Hymn Writer

Alice Freeman Palmer was a pioneer in the education of women.

Our saint, born Alice Elvira Freeman, grew up a farm girl outside Windsor, New York.  She contradicted dominant gender-based expectations of the time by attending college–even breaking off an engagement to do so.  She attended the University of Michigan to 1872 to 1876, graduating with her B.A. degree.  For a year Freeman taught at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  Then, from 1877 to 1879, she served as the principal of a high school at Saginaw, Michigan.  Our saint was the Chair of the Department of History, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, from 1879 to 1881, after which she became the Vice President and Acting President of the college.  She became the first female president of a nationally known college or university in the United States, serving as President without “Acting” in the title from 1885 to 1887.

Then our saint made two important decisions.  In 1887 she married Dr. George Herbert Palmer, a professor of philosophy at Harvard College, and resigned the presidency of Wellesley College.  (She served as the President again in 1889-1890.)  Our saint devoted herself to hobbies, started giving speeches advocating the education of women on par with men, and wrote poetry.  She also attempted the administration of Harvard College to admit women.  From 1892 to 1895 our saint served as non-resident Dean of Women at the then-young University of Chicago, spending just twelve weeks a year in Chicago.  She proved crucial to the success of the nascent university, but male chauvinism led to policy makers ignoring her suggestions, so she resigned.

The educational pioneer, who had helped to found the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (now the American Association of University Women) in 1881  and received an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1892, served on the Massachusetts Board of Education for years.  Our saint, who contributed to her society, abandoned her earlier hope that, after a brief period of adjustment, men would accept women as equals.

Palmer’s publications included the following:

  1. Wellesley Lyrics:  Poems Written by Students and Graduates of Wellesley College (1896);
  2. Why Go to College? An Address (1897); and
  3. A Marriage Cycle (published posthumously, 1915)

One of Palmer’s poems became a commonly published hymn, “How Sweet and Silent is the Place” (1901).

Our saint and her husband were taking a sabbatical in Paris, France, in 1901, when she required liver surgery.  She died peacefully shortly thereafter.


Almighty God, we thank you for your servant Alice Freeman Palmer,

who helped to pave the way for equal educational opportunities for women

and who opposed sexism.

May her work continue in our time,

as the struggle to recognize the image of God in females

remains unfinished business in places near and far.

We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

your beloved Son.  Amen.

Judges 4:1-11, 23-24

Psalm 119:33-40

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 10:38-42






One response to “Feast of Alice Freeman Palmer (December 2)

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  1. Pingback: How Sweet and Silent is the Place | GATHERED PRAYERS

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